Teach Your Baby to Read: The Secrets to a Literary Education

Tucked in your daily routine are the secrets to your child’s literary education.

Your child’s literacy and love for books depends more on his grasp of the stuff of life than on his ability to decipher short-vowel sounds. We understand and appreciate books not only because we can physically read, but also because we can think well about stories and literary themes.

Though a child may decipher the words in a chapter book, he may not understand friendship, sacrifice, and redemption. Another child may struggle to sound out words, but may truly understand the stuff of life. Which child will love reading and read well throughout life? If I were a betting woman, I’d place my money on the second child because he has the makings of a true reader.

  • A true reader is a person who can identify heroes and villains, discern between good and evil, and think deeply about universal truths.
  • A true reader knows how to follow a story from its introduction to its climax to its ending.
  • A true reader knows how to analyze an author’s choices, a character’s decisions, and a story’s message.
  • A true reader is strengthened by every book she reads because she knows how to think well.

Your ongoing conversation with your child is at the heart of their literary education.

When we talk to our little ones about the stuff of life, we set them up to cherish The Bible, to cry over Black Beauty, and to wrestle with Hamlet. We set them up to love reading, to grow from the books they read, and to live well. 

As we talk with our babies, we teach them about the stuff of life. As your child explores the world, you will have countless opportunities to put words around the things he or she is observing. Every family relationship, every task, habit, storybook, holiday, and walk in the park is replete with truths that can be expressed in simple, child-friendly terms.

When we talk to our children, we label their world – “See that fireman? He is a hero who rescues people from fires even when he is afraid.” We develop our child’s understanding of life, good, evil, heroism, hope, friendship, and courage.

Look for ways that you can connect everyday observations and experiences to deeper things: a fireman is a hero, a flower is beautiful, a loss is painful. A few simple sentences will do. A little bit here, a little bit there, and you will have introduced and exercised your child’s vital literary skills.

With a little practice and a lot of heart, you can do this.

Ten Literary Themes for You and Your Baby

I gathered 10 literary themes that probably pop up in your child’s life on a regular basis. Skim the list and start talking about them today. 

  1. The circle of life: 

Every day, we walk by the same rose bush. We notice that each flower endures a season of preparation as a bud, has its day of beauty, and endures a season of aging, decay, and death.  We notice that on the same day that yesterday’s flower is fading, yesterday’s bud is entering its own day of beauty.

2. The beauty of simplicity: 

When we clean up a chaotic playroom and enjoy one simple toy together in the middle of a clean carpet, I sigh with relief about the peace that comes with simplicity. I may say, “Isn’t it so nice to play with one thing at a time? Simplicity is so good for us.”

3. Darkness and light:

Every Halloween, we talk about the difference between darkness and light: we observe the physical, literal difference of a candle in a dark room, as well as the metaphoric difference between good and evil. We overcome the holiday’s emphasis on fear and death by blessing our neighbors with kindness.

4. Love and sacrifice: 

We often talk about the cost of loving one another. We need to be quiet when the baby is napping. We need to share our snacks with our friends. We need to work hard to set the table so that our family can eat together. Each act of love requires a sacrifice.

5. Man vs. Nature:

When the toddler faces a frightening thunderstorm, a dog, or a bumblebee, we talk about nature’s power. We admit that we are afraid because sometimes nature is more powerful than we are. What can we do to overcome its fearsome power? What can we do to stay safe and make wise choices? What songs can we sing to remind ourselves that God is more powerful than nature, that He loves us and cares for us?

6. Necessity of Work:

How do Mommy and Daddy provide for our family? Why does Mommy love to write? Why does Daddy mow the lawn? Why do I have to pick up my toys? Because God created us to work, and we must work in order to survive, to build a home, and to love one another well.

7. Wisdom of experience:

Let’s say our toddler was balancing on a small wagon until the wheels began to roll. She fell down with a thud. After comforting the little daredevil, I may say, “Look what you learned from that! Now you know to be more careful. You gained wisdom from that experience.”

8. Heroism:

Whenever possible, I talk about people who do brave and difficult things even when they are frightened or tired. Who protects and defends other people? These are real life heroes. “Look at Daddy protecting his baby from the rain even though his back is getting wet!” “Look at Mommy emptying the mouse trap even though she is grossed out.”  These daily occasions demonstrate the heroic qualities of self-sacrifice and courage.

9. Redemption:

When I am impatient or when the toddler throws a fit, we experience redemption after the tension has cleared away. When we are all patched-up, playing happily together again, I may say, “Thank you God, for redeeming my impatience. Isn’t God so good to make things better?”

10. Good vs. Evil:

This one’s a weighty concept, eh? Yet, the youngest member of society knows the difference between being treated kindly vs. being treated poorly. Though I would never say, “That kid who snatched your toy is evil,” I may say, “Grabbing toys is unkind. We feel much better when we respect one another. God wants us to respect each other because it is good.”

By now, you probably have some great ideas spinning around in your own head about how this will look in your life. I’d love to know!

The point is, after much use, these themes come to mind more often and I try to talk about them regularly with each of our children. I’m beginning to see some beautiful effects from conversations with our readers. I feel very good about their depth of understanding and their relationships with books. It motivates me to keep talking about literary themes with them – and not to grow lazy in my daily interactions with our baby.

Feel free to print these 10 Literary Themes as a cheat sheet to get you started. Put a copy on the fridge, by the changing table, or in the stroller cup-holder. Give it a try. Trust that you’ll grow over time. Your investment will nurture your child, I’m sure of it!

10 Literary Themes for You and Your Child

  • Servings: 10
  • Print

Conversation is at the heart of literary education.

  • The Circle of Life
  • The Beauty of Simplicity
  • Darkness and Light
  • Love and Sacrifice
  • Man vs. Nature
  • Necessity of Work
  • Wisdom of experience
  • Heroism
  • Redemption
  • Good vs. Evil

Need more literary themes? Check out this ginormous list of possibilities. It’ll keep you busy. 😉

Interested in learning more on this topic?

Be sure to check out Simple Steps for Reading Aloud to Babies and Toddlers.

You may also enjoy the “How to Read Aloud” YouTube videos that I made many, many years ago. You’ll find them in the sidebar under “Enjoy Life”.)

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I’d love to connect with you through email. I’m not on social media, so email is the best way for me to let you know what’s happening at LauraBooz.com. I cherish your trust and will respect your time and attention. 😉 

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